It feels as if the wider world has only recently ‘discovered’ Mykonos, now mentioned in the same breathy terms as Ibiza or Miami – yet it has appealed to A-list celebrities and those who embrace an alternative lifestyle since the Fifties and Sixties. Back then, those stars included Brigitte Bardot and Jackie Onassis; today you’re more likely to find Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan. But despite being commonly held to be among the most expensive, and exclusive, Greek islands, it holds enduring appeal.
Why? It’s progressive, yes – you’ll find gay, and nudist, beaches, such as Super Paradise and Elia – and also profoundly beautiful. Stroll round the alluring main town, Chora, past sugar-cube-shaped buildings, their chalk-white walls accentuated by bright blue doors and shutters, and framed by colourful flowers. History and culture abound too, particularly on the nearby island of Delos, a sacred site held to be the birthplace of Apollo. Nothing changes, or happens, very fast here; order a freddo espresso by the Old Port, and people-watch to your heart’s content. Do the same with a cocktail at the Skandinavian Bar by night, when the island’s denizens really come out to play.
Explore our interactive map below for all the local highlights, and scroll down for our suggested day-by-day summary of the best things to see and do. For further Mykonos inspiration, see our guides to the island’s best hotels, restaurants, nightlife, things to do and beaches.
Stroll through the labyrinthine streets to Gioras Wood Medieval Bakery, the oldest bakery on the island, dating from the 17th century. Stock up on traditional pastries such as perek - round savoury pies usually filled with cheese – hortopita, a tart-like filo pie stuffed with wild greens, or tiropita, triangular-shaped snacks filled with feta and eggs. Wash it down with a bracing espresso freddo (a classic cold coffee drink here).
Around 9am you should still have the streets mostly to yourself, bar the island’s industrious workers who buzz about in minivans and mopeds making deliveries to bars and restaurants, meaning you can forge, unencumbered, to its most picturesque parts, such as the five Windmills of Kato Mili, which sit on a small hill above Little Venice. There used to be dozens on the island, mostly built by the Venetians in the 16th century, but their use as wheat mills died out in the early 20th.
Keep your camera ready as you wander five minutes north to the Panagia Paraportiani – known as ‘Our Lady of the Side Gate’ as it was next to the entrance to the old castle – the most photographed orthodox church on Mykonos, thanks to its unusual, white-washed structure. It’s actually five churches in one.
Board one of the regular public buses from Fabrika Square to your choice of beach for the day. One of the most enduringly popular (and yes, my favourite) is picture-perfect Paradise, with its long sweep of pebbly sand. Established in 1969, it houses a campsite, cafeteria, and a couple of beach clubs.
Lounger hire on the sand costs from €7/£6 (more if you want an umbrella), or you could set up by the saltwater pool at Paradise Beach Club‘s more secluded pool bar, where the only requirement in return for a (more comfortable) lounger is to buy food and/or drink during the day. They do all the usuals you’d expect, such as Greek salads, burgers, halloumi sandwiches and more. The music gets progressively louder as the afternoon goes on; prepare to see people dancing on the main beachside bar by 5pm as the DJ whips them into a frenzy. For more suggestions of the best beaches on the island, see our guide.
Head to Little Venice for a sundowner – but get there early to bag a table with the best view at one of the bars which line the waterfront. Try BAO’s, named after a former local pirate, George Bao, who raided ships from his base at a small island opposite, and sup on one of their signature cocktails, such as The Mandarin, with fresh mandarin juice, gin and lime.
Then tuck into a delicious heap of seafood spaghetti at Pasta Fresca Barkia, which has been making fresh pasta daily since 1978. Afterwards, if you dare, follow the crowds around the corner to the legendary Skandinavian Bar, where partying and people-watching are the order of the night. For more suggestions of the best restaurants on the island, see our guide.
Start the day slowly with a visit to a café at the Old Port; try Kazarma, one of several lining the waterfront, for a reviving veggie omelette and brown toast. If you’re lucky, you might spot one of the island’s three treasured pelicans hovering by the fish market for scraps.
Then visit the Folklore Museum next to Paraportiani church to get an idea of how people used to live, work, and dress in the 19th century. Still hungry? Pop to Leonidas, a basic but popular kebab shop for a Greek salad, chargrilled pork gyro, or chicken souvlaki (55 Georgouli).
Spend the afternoon exploring the charming village of Ano Mera (reached by bus from the Old Port). It is quieter and more peaceful than Chora, and has a few historic sites worth visiting, such as the ruins of Gyzi Castle, built under Venetian rule, and the intact Paleokastro Monastery, both of which offer fabulous views from their higher vantage points. One of the most impressive, however, is the Panagia Tourliani Monastery, built in 1542, and covered inside with brightly painted icons, an altar screen painted by Florentine artists, and dragon-shaped incense holders.
After the heat of the day has died down, take a trip to Delos. Tours depart at 5pm from the Old Port, and you’ll have a couple of hours to explore this 5,000 year old archaeological, and mythological, site. Believed to be the birthplace of twin gods Apollo and Artemis, it was inhabited as far back as 3000BC, and you can see the remains of amphitheatres, temples, public squares, marketplaces and several sculptures. One such sculpture is half a phallus, all that’s left of the symbol of wine god Dionysus, while a series of lions line a terrace which once led to Apollo’s shrine. For more suggestions of the best things to do on the island, see our guide.
Back in Chora, grab a table at the bound-to-be-busy Niko’s Taverna, a Mykonos institution known for its fresh fish (you’ll spot the fresh catch of the day, including sea urchins, on ice around the entrance).
If you’re planning a nightcap, venture to Lola, a pink and purple confection of a cocktail bar which draws a fun, mixed crowd. If you’re going all out, there can only be Jackie O’s, which turns into a, shall we say, lively, nightclub after dark… For more suggestions of the best nightlife on the island, see our guide.
The area around Matoyianni Street in Chora is generally regarded as the best for shopping – if you’ve got the cash to splash, that is. You’ll find designer clothing, handcrafted jewellery, leather sandals and more. Delos Dolphins does beautiful reproductions of Byzantine jewellery, while Soho Soho stocks labels from Alexander Wang to Victoria Beckham.
The absolute best way to get around the island is on the public buses; they serve practically every single beach, and fares range between €1.80 (£1.60) and €2.30 (£2) one-way. You can also hire mopeds, scooters, quad-bikes and cars, but there is so little space for parking that the bus will save you hassle, as well as cash.
For a chilled evening, head to Mykono’s very own outdoor cinema. Cine Manto is tucked away in a quiet square, with an all day café-restaurant set in an inviting, 11,300sq ft, tree- and cactus-lined garden. It shows a programme of late-night films (screening at either 9pm or 11pm) all through the summer. Come for dinner and time it so the film starts just as you’re finishing dessert.
Did you know?
Jackie Onassis loved Mykonos so much she left a very important legacy, in the shape of one of the island’s most beloved figures: Petros, a pelican. The original Petros was found, wounded, by a fisherman in 1958. After being nursed back to health, instead of flying off, he decided to stay. On his death, in 1984, it was Jackie O who donated a new pelican to the island.
Where to stay
Bill & Coo Suites and Lounge is the jet-setter’s choice destination for absolute luxury and privacy in Mykonos. Elegant simplicity sets the mood here where pool, lounge and restaurant spaces are centred around a splendid view of the Aegean Sea. Don’t miss the hotel’s restaurant which is considered one of the best restaurants on Mykonos – signature dishes include a divine cod fricassee served in a traditional egg-lemon sauce with bonito.
On an island full of archetypal white villas, Kensho must be one of the most beautiful, thanks to its contemporary take on Cycladic chic. The hotel, located a short drive from Mykonos Town, offers stylish accommodation, fine dining and a subterranean spa, making it an ideal couple’s retreat. Its location at the top of a steep hill above Ornos beach affords picture-perfect views across two coves.
Pronounced like ‘awesome’, OSOM is in fact is an acronym for ‘the other side of Mykonos’. It offers boutique amenities and a pretty sea view in a quiet corner of the island. This ultra-modern hotel incorporates various influences from Mykonian traditional architecture, with whitewashed walls and minimalist design. For more suggestions of the best hotels in the area, see our guide.
What to bring home
Take home a beautiful, hand-painted and gilded icon from the Apocalypse studio, created by artist Merkourios Dimopoulos, and treasure it for its artistic value.
Bring back something flavoured with mastiha, the distinctive liqueur from Aegean island, Chios. The Mastiha Shop sells a range of infused products including jams, biscuits and even coffee.
When to go
The island’s tourist season runs from roughly the end of April to the end of October. Go either early or late in the season – so, late May/ June, or mid September/early October – when the temperatures are still into the mid to high twenties, but the vast crowds haven’t quite taken over. During non-peak season, you’ll still get a table at most restaurants without having to queue, and should be able to board most public buses to the beach without needing to use your elbows. Hotel and apartment prices will also be cheaper. July and August are both much hotter (though the island’s famed winds can often make it feel less so) and much, much busier.
Know before you go
Emergency fire: 00 30 22890 23199
Emergency police: 00 30 22890 22 716 / 22 235
Health centre emergency assistance: 00 30 6977 654 737 / 0030 6944 338 292
Tourist Police:00 30 22890 22 482
British Embassy: Ploutarchou 1, Athens 106 75, Greece. 00 30 21 0727 2600; gov.uk/world/british-embassy-athens
Flight time: Around three hours and fifty minutes from London
Time difference: GMT +2
International dialling code: 00 30 22890
Local laws and etiquette: Similar to most countries in Western Europe.
Tipping culture: Tips are not generally expected but definitely appreciated. Tip taxis as you would at home; most restaurant bills don’t include service (though many do include a €1/90p or €2/£1.80 cover charge for bread) so a suggested 10-12 per cent is welcome.
Public transport: Buses – running from two main stations, one in the Old Port, one in Fabrika Square – are the only mode of public transportation on the island, often running until at least 1am or 2am, and are clean, safe, cheap and punctual. Bus station: 00 30 22890 23 360; timetables: mykonosbus.com
Taxis: Uber does not operate on the island, but there are a couple of local taxi apps –mykonostaxis.com and mytaximykonos.gr – both available to download from the Apple app store or Google Play. There are usually dozens of general cabs available at the airport, where it will cost around €10-€15 (£9-14) to get to Fabrika square in Chora (the main town).
Etiquette when self-driving: It’s tempting to say it’s every driver for himself, but here, especially the closer you get to Chora, you have to drive slowly and with care as the roads can be fiendishly narrow, and those big, wide public buses lumber along them regularly.
Greetings: Handshakes are standard, or hugs between friends.
Any atypical laws/customs (for British readers) that one should note when visiting: Smoking is still prevalent throughout Greece, both indoors in public areas (eg bars, restaurants, clubs) and outdoors. And while several areas on some of the public beaches are specifically designated nudist, if they are not, it’s unwise to strip off in front of families.
General points of safety: Mykonos is one of the most liberal parts of Greece, and, perhaps due to its higher prices, doesn’t attract much of a criminal element. There are, however, several beggars who populate the streets so you may want to keep a close eye on your wallet.
Laura Millar first experienced Mykonos as a student in 1994. Since then she’s come back almost every year, drawn to the laid-back vibe, spectacular sunsets and her constant search for the perfect Greek salad.
Experience Mykonos with The Telegraph
Telegraph Travel’s best hotels, tours, cruises and holidays in Mykonos, tried, tested and recommended by our Mykonos experts.